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The Book of Heroes: How To Make a Flipbook

Hello! Today we have a special guest post from book designer extraordinaire, Courtney Utt! Not much else to say except to remind you all that when you see a copy of The Book of Heroes in the store tomorrow (and of course you’re all going to the store tomorrow) remember to actually flip through it!

How To Make a Flipbook by Courtney Utt

When we first started contemplating a design for the interiors of The Book of Heroes in relation to Brave Story the editor, Nick Mamatas, suggested making a flipbook of flying books to match the cover illustration. Brave Story has illustrations in the margin showing when the main character finds a magical gem for his sword, and we wanted to make something fun for this book too. I said yes immediately. What a great idea! Little did I know what I was actually getting myself into…

Making a flipbook looked simple when I watched how-to videos on YouTube. But I think in the end it took a lot more work than anybody expected. I first started by outlining one of the books from the cover illustration in Illustrator. Dan May, the same illustrator that created the cover art for Brave Story, created another great illustration for this book which includes a lot of flying books. This process was taking so long, so I took a break from it for the day.

When I got home from work that night I told my boyfriend and favorite illustrator Roderick Constance about trying to create this flying book flipbook. He immediately suggested finding a video on YouTube of something flying so that we could see what wing movement actually looks like, to model the book after. A bird? Too complex, not stiff enough. A butterfly? Yes, but… We ended up finding a slow motion video of a moth beating its wings.

Perfect! That’s what i want the book to look like in the margin! But now, how should I draw those wings, make them look like a book, and how many frames should I make?

Luckily, Roderick offered to help. “When do you need this done by?” he asked. “Uh, I need this in two weeks!!” A few days later I received via email a short Flash video of a roughly illustrated flying book. Wow. I was impressed. Thirty-six frames of a book imitating a flying moth. The cover is red and the pages are blue so that I could see the two elements moving together.

“The Book of Heroes” flash animation pencil test from Roderick Constance on Vimeo.

From there we cut a few frames so that we could have the flipbook repeat exactly eight times, according to the final page count. We were now at thirty frames. Then I brought each frame into Illustrator and vectorized each element. After creating thirty Illustrator frames of the flying book I went back in and created a light source, shading each book to give them more of a three-dimensional feel because the outline was too flat. After finalizing the thirty frames I placed the flying book into the layout 170 times—once for each page—but only on the recto. [That’s the right-hand side for you landlubbers out there. —NM] I then copied the recto placement and flipped it for the verso.[Verso=left—NM] So that if you were to flip through the book you can see the flying book if you flip both front-to-back and back-to-front.

Two weeks later we were done. It looked great on screen, was fun to play with out of the laser jet, but it really needed to be perfect once it came back from the printer!

“The Book of Heroes” margin flipbook animation from Roderick Constance on Vimeo.


Finally, here is a slide show of our local San Francisco inspiration for flying books. Check out this public art installation on the corner of Columbus and Broadway, on the border between Chinatown and North Beach called The Language of Birds.

Click here for slide show.

The Return of Brave Story (And More)


While revisiting Brave Story for its paperback debut, I started thinking again about the book’s zany cover painting. It’s an awesome piece of art, both playful and frightening (much like the Miyuki Miyabe novel itself). In fact, the book’s designer was so taken with the image she ultimately purchased it for herself. It’s now hanging on the wall of her hip San Francisco apartment. And I have no doubt that it provokes spirited conversation during dinner parties.

I remember when the novel first popped up in stores back in 2007. It didn’t look like anything else on the shelves. I even remember Andrew Wheeler blogging about it. “(The novel) has a great oddball cover by Dan May,” he wrote back then. “When people complain that all fantasy covers have to look alike, they forget that things like this are possible.”

In conclusion, he wrote, “I’d love to see more like it, if the audience doesn’t run screaming in disgust.” And guess what? It looks like Mr. Wheeler is going to get his wish. We’re publishing the latest novel by Miyabe in January (The Book of Heroes) and it sports another terrific painting by Dan May. I predict no one will be screaming in disgust.

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